As of 8 September 2015, employers in England and Wales are able to refer employees to the new Fit for Work occupational health assessment referral service. This is a new Government service that offers a free voluntary occupational health assessment for employees who are off work through illness or injury for at least four weeks.In particular, the service is aimed at small and medium-sized businesses with little or no occupational health support. However, it is also intended to complement existing occupational health provision for larger employers.
Given that 31% of workers are employed by organisations with no occupational health support (YouGov) and around 815,000 working people each year have sickness absence of four weeks or more, the Fit for Work initiative looks to be a useful one.
However, according to the Chartered Institute of Payroll Professionals, only one in four organisations expect to use the service. So, why the reluctance?
Probably for two main reasons: firstly, the service is voluntary and employees can simply refuse to be referred; and, secondly, referrals cannot be made until the sickness absence has lasted for four weeks – a long period of absence for any small or medium-sized undertaking to handle.
Still, given that employers and employees alike have expressed a desire for more support in encouraging employees back to work after prolonged sickness absence, this service – described as ‘free, expert and impartial’ – has to be a step in the right direction in controlling long term sickness absence.
To learn more about changes to the government’s Fit to Work scheme, you can read our newsletter that covers the subject in more detail.
In the meantime, we would love to hear what small business owners think about the changes. So please, contribute to the debate in the comments section below.